Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Apparently history teachers don't know history

I swear to god, Joanne Jacobs (on my blogroll) is becoming the Drudge Report of the Op-Ed education related blog-o-sphere.  I'm fairly certain that she not only detests public education, but is positive that public education teachers are fat slobs that would love nothing better than to screw over little children.

One of her latest pieces is regarding history teachers who apparently don't know history.  Apparently Jacobs gained her knowledge from the Lexington Institute, a (big surprise here) conservative social reform group that pushes a platform straight out of a hardcore Republican handbook.
. . . history is often tucked under the umbrella of social studies – a mishmash of everything from global studies to sociology, in which critical figures and lessons from American history are often overlooked. Indeed, in some cases, it is possible to gain certification as a social studies teacher without having studied any history.
 I really don't know what colleges the Lexington Institute was looking at, but I'm pretty sure that every one of them requires at least General Education credits in history.  Mine sure did, since Dale Ostrander at Butte College kicked my ass with Early U.S. History and I have not forgotten that at all. 

This is a gross exageration at least, and more dangerously, a narrow minded vision of what History really is.  The Lexington Institute wants Founding Fathers, Constitutional values, and patriotic views of U.S. History.  That's fine, except that our history doesn't stop at Antebellum America.  And guess what?  I'll tell every single new teacher that they better NOT just major in History.  They better get a Social Studies degree or credential. 

Thanks to Ty Benoit, my 8th grade History and J.C. professor at Butte College, I majored in what was then called Bachelor's of Art in History/Social Science.  It was the best choice I made in my early education.  Because of that degree, I can teach any Social Science classes, from Government to Economics to Geography to Sociology to any of the History classes.  I ended up teaching three Gov/Econ classes and two World History my first year, and was hired mainly because I could teach Gov/Econ.  Now that No Child Left Behind has come around, it is even more vital to be varied in the coursework, because those people with History only degrees are very limited to what they can teach within the department.  New teachers take note, know more of everything, it gets you a job.  Not only that, knowing Government and Economics makes you a better History teacher.  Period.

It seems to me like Joanne Jacobs and the Lexington Institute have a very narrow minded view of what History really is.  U.S. History is taught in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades, and in their Junior year you are supposed to start at Reconstruction.  The other years are a much broader scope of history and the world.  Let's remember, kids don't know much about Social Studies period, and I don't think it's a lack of instructor knowledge as much as it's a lack of those same things that are missing in all education; good instruction, accountability at all levels, good parental support, and a true drive at making education a priority. 

A side note on the mentioned Teaching American History Grant Project.  I just got done participating in the 3rd and final year of the project, and I decided not to really comment on it out of respect for the hard working teachers in the group.  Let me simply say this about project.  It was very, and I mean very, liberal leaning (enforcing a bad sterotype).  Teachers were not treated as professionals.  And this year, when my wife and I spoke up and asked "How is any of this connected to the State Standards", we were mocked.  Multiple times.  However, there were good teachers there that wanted to learn not only about History, but how to teach it well.  And this idea that History teachers don't know History is just wrong.

Avatar (possible spoilers)

My wife and I saw Avatar in 3D last night.  Here's a little review.

First of all, you need to go to the theater and see this movie.  My wife doesn't even like going to the theater, yet she will tell you that you need to go to the theater and see this movie.  Perferabley in 3D.  The movie takes visuals and bumps it up to a scale that is basically unprecedented in film.  Remember that feeling you got when you watched the graphics in Star Wars for the first time?  Well, welcome to the next generation of theater cinematography.  Yes, it is really that good.  But is isn't just landscapes.  It's details.  The native creatures (Na'vi) are lifelike and the textures and expressions are done with amazing precision.  The depth of detail into the forests of Pandora (the location for the film) are stunning.  James Cameron did the right thing waiting 20 years to make this film because his use of technology to create such images is precedent setting.  I wouldn't usually say it, but this movie is good enough to see based on the visuals alone.  And yes, go to a theater.

The story is your basic "corporation vs. native population" situation.  There is a lot of "Mother Earth" tones to the flim and the ideas around interconnectivity, all of which play out fine.  Think of it like Wall-E.  The message was obviously there, but it didn't spoil the movie.  Unfortunately Cameron had to get his War on Terror digs in there as well, and did it without being subtle at all.  That's where it started to get a little preachy, which I don't need in my films entertainment films.  James Cameron would have done better to watch some Battlestar Galatica episodes to learn how to get effective social messages across to the public, instead he just blurts out the politics.

This movie is better than Titanic, but also similar in its scope.  The visuals are what carries it (and carries it well) while the story is fine and lightly entertaining.  The film should win just about every technology based Oscar in existence, but a Best Picture nod should not be future.  I'd give the film an 8.5 out of 10.   

Monday, December 28, 2009

Staff Member of the Month for December

Student government voted me Staff Member of the Month for December.  Believe it or not, I like this better than a monetary bonus at Christmas.  I teach cynical Seniors and I'm considered "tough", so it means a whole lot to me that students find me a valuable teacher.

What I find interesting is my union's opinions of Staff Member of the Month type of things.  In two meetings that I've attended this year, conversation has came up that certain elementary school faculties refuse to participate with Staff Member of the Month functions because it makes some people feel bad.  The reaction from high school teachers when this argument comes up is one of soft amusement and pity.  "It pits teachers against teachers" is a crap excuse, one that demeans the profession down to the lowest common denominator.   Want to know why we get a bad rap from society?  Calling all of us totally equal is a start.

In the end, not allowing good workers to be recognized breaks about every workplace efficiency and management rule on the books.  It assumes that every worker is the same, when in actuality, they are really quite different.  "Every teacher works hard" is the excuse that is given in unions regarding equity.  It's bullshit of course.  Not every teacher works hard, and not every teacher is a good teacher.  And no, I'm not talking about the rooks that are trying to find their way in the profession, I'm talking about the "cash it in, I want to be on the golf course for twilight rates" kind of teacher.  With all due respect, I don't like to be on par with those types of teachers, it demeans me.

Vacation

So what's a teacher to do during vacation?  Well, I'm trying to do nothing but it isn't turning out too well.

Basketball season is at a pause, and I happen to like the pause.  Since the first week of November, basketball has dictated so much of my life that I'm actually enjoying the break away from it.  I actually get to sit on the couch not exhausted from my long days, and just relax.  I love basketball, but the other things that surround the sport are draining.  I took the team to Alameda for a three day tournament.  It went off without a hitch, but the planning, the execution of having a dozen kids away for a few days, and the expectations become very tiring.  I left my Tuesday game (a game in which a 20 point lead ended up a 3 point win) with nearly no voice.  I'm also sick.  Ahh, hoop season.

My holiday has been in the car for the most part.  Between Wednesday and Saturday, my wife and I traversed 17 counties and travelled over 1,000 miles in the car.  It was necessary of course, and thankfully my wife and I travel well.  Santa was good to me this year.  Lots of cooking stuff (my new hobby), some good books, and more importantly, time alone with my wife.

School is weighing on me.  I just started to grade papers (stock market projects) and the bad news at the end of Finals Week was that the scantron machine broke.  That means that the first day back of the second semester will be grading Finals, because I'm not going to spend days grading 150 scantron tests.  So besides the projects, I have Econ curves to grade, APUSH essays to read, and a first few weeks of semester two to plan for. 

Also this week; Avatar in 3-D, wine tasting in the Dry Creek Valley, a nice dinner with my wife, and more relaxation. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

"English Language Learner Training", a fantastic method of making political correctness a part of your classroom atmosphere.

We have teachers and district employees that insist that the reason the scores for English Language Learners aren't at "proficient" is because the teachers don't know how to teach using a variety of techniques that address a variety of modalities.  While this might be somewhat true, it is clearly (unless you are one of the ELL nuts) not because of issues surrounding cultural sensitivity.  It's simply bad teaching. 

Now the rumor has come out that some at our district want teachers to attend yet another culturally sensitive English Language Learner session.  For me, it would be the fourth time that I would have to learn this crap in a nine year span.  I mean "crap" not because it is bad, I mean "crap" because it isn't about good teaching to ELL students, but it is cleverly hidden to make it out to be.

The first time I dealt with ELL instruction was in the credential program, where every professor seemed to make it a mission to enforce the doctrine of SDAIE Instruction.  SDAIE stands for "Specially designed academic instruction in English".  On the surface it is specifically geared towards teaching Second Language Learners the material in a variety of styles at a more deliberate pace.  Underneath all the politically correct crap, it's simply good teaching.  You use different techniques to address different styles of learning, you use different assessments, you slow down and focus on positive reinforcement, you model good practice, blah, blah.  The problem is that SDAIE, or CLAD, or any other stupid ass acronym that is associated with Second Language Learning isn't just about instruction, it's about teaching Spanish speakers, and therefore being more sensitive to the needs to Spanish speaking students.  A full quarter of my CLAD (which allows me to teach ELL students) class work wasn't about teaching, it was about multi-cultural issues that have little to no relevance to practices within the classroom.  Add to that another ELL training about five years ago, and an ELL training that was advertised as a Content Area Literacy course a year before that and all this ELL instruction talk makes me want to kick my cat.

A good teacher told me yesterday that even the best teachers will only get so far with certain ELL students.  "I know a great way to raise test scores for ELL students; teach them in English or teach them in Spanish, and stop fucking around with it".  We both shared the same frustration of being told that our teaching was problem when dealing with a student that can hardly speak the language.  Guess what?  We don't know Spanish.  Another training that attempts to address asinine cultural concerns will not make the situation any better.  In fact, it makes me resent the hell out of people that have basically decided that all kids aren't worth the trouble of making good teachers, just the Spanish speaking ones.  Why is it that I had to learn about teaching modalities constantly associated with English Language Learners, not simply used in the context of good teaching?  And finally, when did the kiss ass approach to cultural sensitivity suddenly become a component of good teaching?

I think part of the reason that students enjoy my class is that I'm culturally insensitive to everyone.  I could care about race or culture or sexual orientation or height or weight or gender or religion.  When students walk into the classroom they pocket some that culture of the outside world and replace it with a bit of creativity, passion, work ethic, and humor.  In my class (Seniors in high school), culture comes out as a benefit to problem solving, not as an excuse not to complete an assignment or work hard.  From what I've seen, English Language Learners are still kids that want to see relevant information in their class work, be given high expectations, and the opportunity to function in a legitimate classroom environment.  In the eyes of cultural hounds, cultural sensitivity needs to be offered up to every student that enters the classroom.  In my eyes, the students need to be exposed to a successful and opportunistic atmosphere instead, eventually making some of my classroom habits a permanent part of their personal culture.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Good Defense

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There is something to say for good defensive teams in basketball.

I grew up watching UNLV (University of Nevada at Las Vegas) playing their Amoeba match-up zone and stifling man-to-man defenses.  It is that style, that “in your face without mercy, organized chaos” style of basketball that gets players pumped, fans entertained, and “W’s” showing up the local newspapers.  Good defense clearly shows that the kids are hustling and thinking, since people are not only flying around the court trying to get a hand on the ball, they’re also communicating with each other in regards to what is happening on the floor.  Then all of that work creates fast breaks and the sport becomes a whole lot of fun to play.  I loved watching the Runnin Rebels because that defensive pressure was chaotic and unending.  Play Princeton?  Constant man pressure.  Play “40 Minutes of Hell” Arkansas?  Constant man pressure.  And some of the best offensive players in the game ended up as victims all might Rebels.  Ask Dennis Scott what happened in the first nine minutes of the second half of the 1990 Final Four.  One field goal is what happened.

My basketball practices have lately shown elements of some pretty good defense.  That might be a wee bit important in the first few games because two guys that can score a lot of points will be out.  This means that the defense on my team, a team full of high energy guys, must work that much harder to keep guys away from the basket.  Last year we had a nice run going where we wore teams down and in the last few minutes would out execute and do the little things well.  With the defense I’ve witnessed, maybe that streak will continue. 

We shall see. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

10 years from now?

Dkzody’s Weblog post put an enormous amount of fear in me.

I have worked harder, cared more, done more, and it’s not enough to please everyone. After 18 years in the inner city school, working with kids from severe poverty, I am discouraged and feel beaten down. When will it get better?

I have occasional moments like this, and I really fear that ten more years down the road I’m going to feel like nothing has changed. Kids write to me after high school and the little e-mails or notes do wonders for my faith in the system, but societies pressure…….actually, I can deal with the pressure. Societies hypocrisy is what beats me down.

Maybe I should unplug. Maybe I should no longer listen to people, read blogs, and maybe I should start to maintain my classroom in the manner that I see fit for success, not to the standards of an ignorant populace that is more concerned about trips to Mexico, two week cruises, and drying good weed for sale to some idiot coming in from out of state.

I’m tired of lame excuses, technology not working, “professional learning communities”, and having to justify everything I do to a man or woman who is completely at the mercy of a 15 year old child. Do you know that on a progress report I almost wrote “Pain in the ass”? I caught myself, maybe unfortunately.

Do you know that I have to give every player a 5 day try-out for basketball? Junior Varsity boy’s basketball. That means that a kid can trip over the three point line every time down the floor and it must take me five days to figure out that he might be in the wrong place. Since when did our society become shy about saying, “Your kid is not good at this. Maybe he/she should try something else”? I didn’t make the J.V. Boy’s Baseball team at my high school. I was cut after 3 days and a cut list was posted of the guys that made the team. You know what I did? I played more basketball, got a girlfriend, got more involved with a church youth group, and got over it.

And while I’m ranting (and this post was not intended to be that), I’d like to thank those fellow colleagues that had “parties” on Friday. My Econ class got their previous test scores and worked on their Stock Market Portfolio. My AP U.S. History class took a huge test. My Government classes finished up Mock Congress Committee assignments, did a practice Bill-to-Law quiz, and finished “An Act of Congress: Following HR 6161”. I did not have a party. And nearly every one of my students reminded me of that fact. You did not make the Social Studies job any easier on Friday.

Yes, I love my job. But Jesus F-ing Christ, someone work with me here.

Standardized testing can kiss my ass

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Seriously, I’m to the point of not caring a damn about standardized testing. 

And while maybe I’m engaging in a little bit of hyperbole (after all, I’m hired to care about these idiotic tests), the fact of the matter is that more and more teachers are reaching that same conclusion about all the test jive. 

I am happy to see API growth but I just want to point out that the target is 800," school board member Dave Johnston said. "There's nothing magical about 800. When we get to 800, that means 55 percent of the students are at grade level, 45 percent are not. 800 is not a great target.

That’s the quote from one of my Board Members (check Friends of Dave right), who also said that teachers are working hard, yada, yada.  I’ve pretty much come to ignore anything coming from the mouths of politicians (no offense Dave) because I still think they don’t have a damn clue about what they are talking about.  Take the three in the picture at the top of the post.  Those are the three yahoos who will be representing the push for reform in education.  Race baiting ambulance chaser Al Sharpton, House Speaking hypocrite Newt Gingrich, and Arnie Duncan, whose choice of companions is a clear sign that only 11 months in, Obama’s education plan has jumped the shark.  How can you take education reform seriously with these clowns in charge?

With a new tool called Data Director, I checked out the results from my U.S. History classes from last year, and the results seemed to be pretty good.  No, not everyone was proficient, but well above the state average.  About 70%.  And of those that did not pass, almost all of those were basic. 

I saw three things from the data.  First, attendance had a direct impact on test scores.  Duh.  I’m dealing with Juniors in high school and obviously poor attendance was going to mean that students didn’t do well.  This was the number one factor in low test scores.  I could point to 70-80 percent of my non-proficient kids and said “yep, attendance was an issue”.  Now, how exactly am I supposed to be responsible for 16 year olds not getting to my classroom?  My lessons are engaging, my management is strong, my results are good.  Why should my job hinge on a 16 year wishing to get high instead of learning in my classroom?  And I’m so over the KIPP crap.  KIPP would have expelled many of those students before the testing, and those parents are more invested in their child’s education anyhow, which eliminates a huge problem in test scores.

Group number two is Hispanics.  3/4 quarter of my white students were proficient.  Just over half my Hispanics were.  The whole point of testing is to tear apart data, here’s another one.  And no, the attendance issue is not connected to ethnicity.  And yes, I am CLADed.  And yes, I am SDIAE trained.  And yes, I use multiple forms of instruction and assessment.  Some Hispanics did well in my classes, others did not.  Almost all were not that far from proficient.  Language was probably an issue.  It ended up impacting my test scores. 

The final group was the most shocking, and a clear reason why testing can’t be taken too seriously to measure anything except for maybe long term trends in data.  I consider myself a pretty tough teacher.  I think my students would say that they learn in my classes and that I have high expectations regarding quality of work.  Take a look at past teacher report cards (I’ve listed them in various June posts) where students occasionally state that I’m too college-like.  There is no grade inflation in my classroom.  Ok, take all of that into account when I tell you that the third group of students included those that were very successful in my class, but did not get a proficient score on the STAR exam’s U.S. History test.  I’m talking seriously successful.  Advanced Placement successful.  Social Studies Advanced Placement successful.  But couldn’t get a passing score on piece-of-crap state standards test?  They simply didn’t care.  “We had AP testing”, “It doesn’t impact us”, “They really bore the hell out of me”………yeah, except that my job is that much harder because I need to listen to our newspaper trash the school because of test scores, or watch pundits insist that everything is the teachers fault.

So really, the only reason I care at all about tests is because I’m paid to, and since I’m not paid well, and my pay continues to fall, I’m becoming less inclined to listen to people that blow hot air.  Test this. 

Thank God I teach Seniors.  No testing, just teaching.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In a weird place

One of our teachers died last week.

She was only 45 and died of a heart attack, or so I was told.  She taught English and did the Journalism and Yearbook classes.  When I first heard about it from a colleague on Veteran's Day I was stunned.  I had just been in her classroom the week before helping kids edit the newspaper with election returns data, and now the permanence of the whole thing is kinda hitting me.  It’s not like I was close to Tonya Sparkes, we didn’t do a whole lot of speaking while I was teaching at Ukiah.  Our rooms were in different buildings and our lives pretty much revolved around students, which means we were always busy.  But every conversation I had with her was a pleasant one, and her loss just seems so, I don’t know, frightening and sad.

It was my first real encounter with grief at the school.  We’ve had some students and ex-students die in the past, and that has caused a little turbulence, but this teacher was a former Ukiah graduate and a very beloved member of the staff.  The impacts were far greater.  We had an early faculty meeting to discuss the crisis situation on campus and were told that grief counseling was available.  Teaching in that kind of setting is odd.  You know that the feelings going around are not going to be good, yet I also felt like some students were going to be wanting normality to continue to get their mind off things, and yet others wouldn’t even be involved.  Remember, a school of 1,600 students, and not all were involved with Ms. Sparkes.  So what’s a teacher to do?

Well, I gave a little speech, tried to talk about my experience with the deceased, and then offered time for reflection.  No one took it, so we did a light version of the lesson and all proceeded ok.  It was odd.  The rest of the day seemed right in line.  Well, kids are resilient that way. 

I cancelled basketball practice and I’m going to her memorial service on Saturday.  While I didn’t know her personally, I feel like the teacher family at the high school lost a good soul, someone who was a pretty danm good professional educator.  And I have no problem honoring the memory of someone whose legacy will revolve around giving up their life to help kids. 

No problem at all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Day in the Life of a High School Teacher

-Alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m.  My wife and I chit-chat for a little bit and discuss the why’s of needing to get out of bed.  She goes and works out, I take a shower.

-Breakfast is oatmeal and coffee.  Instead of taking my coffee to go, I slow down a bit and watch the morning news and enjoy the dawn.  I wear slacks and a button down shirt.  No tie today because I don’t feel like wearing one.  I grab my backpack and my basketball bag and I’m out the door at 6:20.

-I get to school at 6:30, one hour before classes start.  I’m hoping for computer lab time for 1st and 5th period to review, track, and buy and sell stocks for the their stock project.  I reserved the library lab for 5th, but my building’s lab is taken by another teacher.  I plan to beg him later for it.  I begin to make a quiz.

-By 7 a.m. the first students arrive.  They are fantastic kids that are not only bright, but social towards teachers and are the exact kind of kids you want around in the morning.  The other teacher still hasn’t showed up.  I talk to my neighbor teacher about students using the teacher bathrooms in the building.  We are going to start writing kids up for using them, even if another teacher allows it.

-I get a call at 7:15, my 5th period library computer lab spot has been taken by a science teacher that reserved it by e-mail the night before.  I’m furious, but prepared nonetheless.  The other teacher gets to school and tells me he can’t give up his lab spot either.  No stock portfolio time this week.  Believe it or not, our school as less than 100 computers available for student use, for a school of 1,700 students.

-First period Economics starts with a quiz on business organizations.  One student comes in late and starts on the quiz.  We correct the quiz with seven students getting “perfection” and I write it on the white board.  They compete with Fifth period Econ for perfect papers and usually lose.  I send the one tardy out with a referral.  I tell them that today is a stock trading day and that they can turn in “trading tickets” (they must buy/sell/organize everything by hand, no online stock simulations) by Sixth period today.  I then show them how to create a line graph in Microsoft Word.  We then watch the news.  It lasts about 7 minutes.  Couple of questions and on to business organizations.  The focus today is corporations.  The class attention is good, the discussion is lively, and overall it is a nice day. 

-Between First and Second I take a phone call from the Varsity basketball coach.  We discuss the station drills I’m going to run tonight.  I then go outside and greet students.

-Second period is AP U.S. History.  The students go straight into the lab and begin to research information on Andrew Jackson.  Using three articles of impeachment, the students are putting President Jackson on trial with some students trying him and others supporting him.  I monitor the class in the lab and grade a few papers.  This class is lively, but a small group has maturity problems.  Two opposition groups playfully go after each other on whether or not Jackson committed genocide on Native Americans.  The discussion is good at first, but two students can’t focus and it ends up distracting people for a majority of the period.  It isn’t enough to toss out of class, but I’m pretty close to calling home on the group.  All does end well however, and it looks like people used the class time wisely. 

-Break is next.  The 12 minute break allows me to put up Mock Congress research links on my blog, and I spend 5 minutes out with colleagues talking about nothing in particular. 

-Third period is American Government.  We watch news and answer questions, then get to the bill writing portion of our Mock Congress. Students have divided themselves into Democrats and Republicans, and are using the computer lab to write bills.  They jump right into the process without a single problem.  The entire lab time is used to research statistics and begin the actual format of bill writing (which is very specific).  Everyone is engaged.  The entire period is me going from place to place checking on format and statistics.  It is a very productive period for a class that can be challenging at times.  They are totally engaged until the bell.

-I head out between Third and Fourth to converse with students in the halls.  I talk to an ex-student who is now a waitress.  I talk to two students about golf.  I talk to another about basketball practice tonight.  And talk to many about nothing in particular. 

-Fourth period starts out with a laugh.  I have a fantastic relationship with many students in the class, and the current ongoing “argument” is whether or not one of my students is actually Portuguese (which I am).  He brings in a book called “Portuguese Families of Mendocino County” and there is his family.  I act dejected and everyone gets a good laugh.  News and questions, and then (since this is also American Government) the bill writing begins.  This class is more deliberate.  They meet in party caucuses and discuss the bills they want to write, then set off and get them going.  Again, full engagement with no hiccups.  The Majority Leader and Minority Leader are very active in the class, making sure that the bills are on target and trying to sway some fence sitting members of the opposition.  It is another good class. 

-I begin lunch by shooting an e-mail off to Ning to ask them to remove Google Ads from my social networking site.  I’m looking to launch my Ning site this January, maybe.  For sure for next year.  The rest of lunch is at the table with colleagues.  We talk about lack of participation in sports and the overall negative atmosphere at the school this year.  Student apathy is bad, and it seems like teachers have no support from parents in the matter.  We shoot around the table the stories of parents who seem to not care that their kid is doing poorly or is not attending school.  It is the most negative I’ve heard my lunch table in a long time.  I leave in a little bit of a bad mood until one of my Fifth period students shows up with a tall Cafe Mocha for me.  I can’t help but smile.

-Fifth period begins with a quiz and the perfection number is 11, beating First period, again.  Fifth will be allowed to trade stock through tomorrow but must get me all the stock tickets by morning on Thursday.  We watch news, I show them the stock graph in word, and then we start on Partnerships and Corporations.  This class is full of incredibly bright kids, but some like to try and manipulate the conversation into something more interesting than the current topic, if that makes sense.  Most of the questions are valid though, and the period flies by quickly without problems. 

-Sixth is my “prep”.  Today, it will be non-existent.  I walk to the Varsity basketball coaches room to discuss try-outs, tournaments, funding, and a myriad of things related to basketball.  I then walk to the Athletic Directors office and we head down to the Admin Building to try to solve a problem with student physicals (like students not having them).  I collect some of the completed ones and walk down the hall.  I talk to the principal for about two minutes regarding a basketball issue.  I then walk to the vice-principal’s office and spend time in there discussing one of my students about attendance.  I return to my class with 20 minutes left on my prep.  Some students arrive with completed stock tickets.  I take those and head to a computer tech office to try and get my Ning issue resolved, meaning the schools filters won’t allow for students to access Ning, which creates a problem in using it.  I return to talk to some students about stock portfolio numbers and my prep is over. 

-The end of school begins at 2:45.  I sit and do some work on a business organization power point when after 10 minutes a student comes into my classroom from the computer lab.  Apparently the credit recovery program supervisor was absent today and didn’t tell the students.  The lab is full of kids.  I head to the Admin Building to let them know the deal, get more basketball paperwork, and then start dealing with my basketball physical issues.  Some parents are mad because we (coaches) won’t let players play without all the paperwork.  The next 30 minutes is a flurry of going building to building looking for student paperwork, calling parents, and trying to resolve issues that are usually related to students not getting their responsibilities in order.  I’m not amused, and by 3:45 I’m pretty much ready to say, “If you really wanted to play basketball, this would already be done.”

-I leave campus at round 3:45 to get coffee.  I’m tired and irritated and Coffee Critic gets my business.  I run into a student who is filling up her caffeine intake before going to work, and another teacher who I chat with for a few minutes.  Back to school.

-I get back at around 4:10 to find that students are looking for me and parents are calling me, all about basketball paperwork.  I haven’t had a bite to eat before practice, but I need to address the paperwork issues now that they are at my front door.  More calls, more visits to the Athletic Director and the Principal, and it is 4:30.  The issue is not resolved, but I’m not budging and it is a “No” until Standards and Practices are met.

-I cook my microwave Chicken Alfredo and start to download The War Room off of Youtube.  I can really use some of those clips in my Government classes.  I change clothes in my classroom and head to the gym at around 4:50, after one last stop in the office to see if any more paperwork was turned in.

-Practice starts at 5 and lasts until 7:30.  I won’t comment on it because if one thing gets more negative attention than anything else in this town, it is athletics.  Oh, I will say that basketball paperwork problems were involved.  When practice ends the coaches retire to the coaches room to discuss the day. 

-I drive home at 8:30 to my wife, who is also very tired.  I watch the Kings-Thunder game until 10 p.m., then read and write blogs until right now.  Tomorrow is a day off, so I can stay up late and not think about schoolwork.

But I promise you, basketball paperwork will still be around tomorrow.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Energy

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As much as you want to ignore it, kids will tell you which teachers are good and which teacher they can scam.  I often hear arguments that students will only pick the teachers that are “easy” as the teachers that are the best.  Believe it or not, students (at least upper classmen in high school) are pretty dang honest when it comes to which teachers give them the goods. 

When I hear about a teacher being praised, I ask the students why they like him/her so much.  Hell, why not?  Obviously those teachers are doing something right and it would be foolish not to try and incorporate their successes in the classroom.  The same names usually appear over and over again, and the reasons are actually pretty simple:

1.  I actually learn something in the class.

2.  The teacher seems to really care.

3.  The teacher is energetic.

The third one is so important and it is often overlooked by those in the credential program.  Nobody warns you about the October Blues and how students will respond better if you keep the energy up.  In fact, students will often overlook errors in your teaching when you show energy and passion in what you are doing.  Think about it this way, for every 10 days of energetic teaching, the kids will actually give a break when you might be “off”.  While other teachers begin to slide in the level of interest with the students after the first month passes (or in our case, when Homecoming ends), teachers that maintain the rigor and consistent interest are rewarded with a year’s worth of respect and hard working kids. 

Here’s a hint for rookie teachers though, the kids won’t acknowledge it until later.  And if you are brand new at the school, you might not get it acknowledged until next year.  That’s the tough part of maintaining energy, the ability to sustain it when the kids seem bored, but are paying attention.  I’ve occasionally asked a student, “You ok?”, and the student will sometimes answer in a perplexed manner, “Yeah, why?”. 

“Well, you just seem kind of down and out of it today.”

“No, I’ve got it all.  This is actually my favorite class.  If it wasn’t for this class, I wouldn’t be here today.”

You have to smile after a comment like that, especially if it’s during the doldrums of October or the nasty stretch of early Spring. 

So rookie teachers need to remember that energy gets you through a lot of hassle, and it’s good for students.  Fight through the tired and the bad environment and the negative publicity, and bring the energy to the four walls in which you teach.           

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Legalize Marijuana, watch your kids go to pot

"Legalize it and tax it". 

That's the argument that is constantly stated by those people that think that weed is the answer to the woes of society. 

Those that actually believe this are liars.  I am living in a town where marijuana is basically legal and society is slowly but surely crumbling away from reality. 

First off, you aren't going to be able to tax anything.  When all it takes is a little drip irrigation and a decent green thumb, everyone that wants to grow it will simply grow it, not buy it with the burden of paying a tax.  And if you actually think someone is going to enforce taxing growers, guess what, authorities can't control anything as it is, they sure as hell aren't going to deal with taxation.

Then there is the school.  Startling numbers came out this week and they spread like wildfire around the campus. 

The number of students expelled for drug use and/or distribution is now more than all of last year, and it is getting worse.  I talked to various people that called the problem "epidemic", and when you are in a town that accepts the culture, how do you deal with this?

A few of us teachers through around a few ideas and in the end we came to two conclusions:

1)  Get out the real scientific truth about weed.  More and more studies are coming out regarding the impact of marijuana on the teenage brain and none of them are good.  No, it won't kill you.  It'll only make your life slowly worse and worse.  Maybe you shake it off as a high school/college fad, and then again, maybe you won't.  Maybe you want it and need it.  Maybe it is necessary to smoke it every day at lunch, and then when you get home, and then again at seven in the morning (yes, they are catching students smoking at 7 a.m.).  In the end, you will be deteriorating your body and your brain nice and slow, all for a stupid little plant.

2)  The drug is illegal, especially at Ukiah High, and let's treat it that way.  The teachers had no problem with increased police presence, dogs, the whole nine yards.  If the community wants to battle over the importance of marijuana over kids, then we make the stand at the gates of Ukiah High School. 

It really needs to be a city wide effort.  There are good businesses and good people in this town, and the only way this problem is going to be solved is if the good parts of this town overwhelm the idiots that find marijuana so important. 

Updated 11/10

Looks like the Twitter feeds have been catching on to my blog post, and it's funny to read some of the reaction.  You know what never ceases to amaze me?  When the people that are so pro-legalizing pot seem to insist that I'm over-exaggerating or lying.  Take for instance this guy, jdc325, who insisted that this post is "overemotional, illogical, and lacking in evidence".  Of course this is some schmuck from Great Britain and not from Mendocino County, so the moron wouldn't know the first thing about teaching in a pot-laced county.  Am I overemotional about the rampant drug use from kids or the lack of society's priority in their well-being over legalization of weed?  What is illogical?  Is it the fact that Ukiah has had an increase in crime since legalization or simply that drug related crimes at the high school have skyrocketed?  How about the lack of evidence?  I promise that I'm not lying that drug related expulsions are through the roof at our school.  I promise that I'm not lying that kids are waking and baking before attending school.  I promise that I'm not lying that kids are simply taking weed from families that grow and try to sell it at school. 

Legalize it, legalize it, legalize it.  All those bad things, real or "perceived", that happen in society are either lies or ...........who cares.  Just legalize it.

Idiots.  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Two things the Ukiah Daily Journal dealt with this week that I’m tired of watching

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A fabulous week for the school district in the newspaper.

As the Ukiah Daily Journal reported on Tuesday, our idiotic teacher’s union has refused to negotiate with the school district.  We aren’t at impasse or anything like that, the UTA (Ukiah Teacher’s Union) just doesn’t want to meet.  I went to a meeting where a union leader actually had the balls to say “The school’s budget is just fine, the contract is strong, and the district can do nothing to us if we don’t negotiate”.  This would be funny if it was a Mel Brooks movie.  But it isn’t, and young teachers are going to be in big trouble (as soon as January), and the fact that these people have the paychecks of hundreds in their hands is frightening.  That might be why some institutions are looking at alternative representation.

Today there was a story about the wonders of marijuana at the high school.  This week’s announcement by President Obama that the feds would not go after legal marijuana users has brought quite the reaction locally, where the UDJ has had article after article about weed within the county, as if it just realized that it was a huge part of society in Mendocino County.  The article isn’t too far off the mark about weed’s impact on the school, with the social order accepting the drug so readily and the school having a zero tolerance policy towards it.  However, I haven’t heard about students smoking during class.  I can guarantee that it isn’t happening in my classroom. 

I’ll be waiting for the positive high school story this week.    

The Grind

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When watching the Deadliest Catch, there comes a period called “The Grind”.  It is a seemingly unending work shift that can last for multiple days with almost no rest and a feeling like you are doing your job in an almost robotic fashion. 

For teachers this is called October.

If you are frequent reader to my blog you’ll notice that I’ve been pretty sparse with the postings lately.  That’s because I’m unbelievably busy.  I often have fantastic ideas during my prep period, but I need that time to prep for tomorrow.  I often have great ideas around 7 p.m., but I need to correct papers and input grades so I hold off on blogging.  I still have those great ideas at 11, but now I’m off to bed, only to be up at 5 a.m. and exhausted.  I’m straggling into class at around 6:15 a.m. to work up energy for my 7:30 class, and I try and get through the day.

Obviously I’m giving too much work since I’m so damn behind in my grading.  First quarter grades were due on Wednesday and I ended taking my AP US History classes and taking a bit of liberty in assessing grades.  I still have at least a half dozen assignments to grade and it wasn’t going to get done in time.  It wasn’t like the grades were going to be significant in change, but I feel unsatisfied none-the-less.  Oh, and Homecoming just ended.  This completely screwed up the minutes I had allocated to teaching and I’m still making up the time missed.  Fortunately, the students did a good job with attendance finished work ahead of schedule in the case of AP Comp Gov.

I don’t know about you, but my school is getting hammered with illness.  Interesting that it happened right after the late nights and crappy food of Homecoming, but listening to the news makes me think that it is just a really nasty bug.  While I hear plenty of rumors of Swine Flu, who really knows.  Lots of kids are coming down with the flu (my APUSH class was half gone early this week) and most come back insisting that it is Swine.  Nobody has been tested for it.  They just stay home a whole lot longer than usual.  This makes school that much more difficult because breaks and lunch become a teaching period were quizzes are made up, assignments are dealt with, and kids get make-up instruction. 

November will be better, I know it.  Basketball starts, Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and I get to listen to the rain coming down on my roof.

While I grade essays.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This time it ain't Tigger socks

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This is 11 year old Dean Martin from Adele Harrison Middle School in Sonoma, California.  Dean wore the Vallejo firefighter shirt on 9/11 to honor those that died in the line of duty on that tragic day.  Well, guess who has a blue/red dress code.  From Sonomanews.com:

"...the T-shirt violated Adele Harrison Middle School's dress code, which does not allow students to wear solid red or solid blue clothing due to the affiliation with gang colors. When Dean got to school, he was sent to the office for breaking the dress code. "When a student breaks the dress code for the first time, they're given a warning and asked to change their shirt," said Karla Conroy, principal at Adele, who added that Dean was given the chance to change into his gym shirt but refused."

We've seen stories like this before, most notoriously the Tigger Socks from Redwood Middle School in Napa.  Of course, this isn't about cute cartoon characters, it's about the recognition of American heroes. 

I really appreciate how the Martin family reacted.  The kid rode his bike home and then the family explained that they would follow the rules, but expressed their displeasure.  No lawsuits. 

While I understand the Martin family's displeasure, the school did the right thing in being consistent with their rules.  Of course the shirt wasn't malicious, and of course the intent is to stop gang activity, but if you are going to be a credible educational  institution, you need to tell Dean to change the shirt.  They gave him the option and he declined, so he was given a consequence.  It had to happen. 

However, I also think that the dress code needs to be looked at for viability.  I don't like the idea of banning colors for this very reason.  I wear red ties and blue ties to school all the time.  Am I breaking the dress code?  In theory yes, although the rule isn't designed for my beautiful choice of ties.  Either require uniforms or better yet, attack the gang problem by attacking the gangs themselves.  We had a loose interpretation a few years ago of a color dress code, and it slowly evolved into specific articles of clothing; Shoelaces, belts, do-rags, and hats.  The policy is more focused and has caused much fewer dress code issues.     

In the end, let's remember that the colors aren't doing the damage, gang-bangers are.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mendocino Measure A! Democracy……and idiots….in action.

Just outside of the city limits of Ukiah there is an empty piece of property formally owned by the Masonite Company.  In 2001, the company left town leaving a probably toxic parcel for some entity to swoop down and purchase. 

Enter the Diversified Realty Corporation (DDR).  After hassling with the county about rezoning the land (it is heavy industrial now, they want it mixed use), they have managed to get a ballot measure to the voters in the November that let’s the people decide about the rezoning issue.  The ballot measure is called Measure A.

Needless to say, both sides of the Measure A issue have made plenty of noise.  The “Mendocino Crossing” project (DDR) is the name of the “Yes on Measure A” group.  They are the “corporate big-box bad guys”.  On the other side we have the “No on Measure A” crowd, a group of no-growth advocates, anti-corporate types, and local business owners.  It’s over a month away and already I’m  tired of both sides’ aggressive tactics in getting people to vote.  I’ve been called twice by both sides and been solicited by a “Yes on Measure A” promoter.  The media hype surrounding the “No on A” is so annoying and hypocritical that my wife and I are considering voting “Yes” on the measure because we are so turned off by the anti-corporate faux-rage.  Here’s a list of arguments from both sides, and why I’ll probably end up voting “yes”.

1)  Measure A goes around the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with a loophole regarding the initiative process.  My take:  It does, although much of the environmental impact studies have already been conducted in a report that DDR released.  In addition, the development still has to go through the county for permits, water issues, and still have to pay local impact fees.  Mind you, a lot of this would have been taken care of if the county wasn’t such a bitch to deal with.  Meaning, this is a growth issue.

2)  It will kill good jobs.  My take:  What good jobs?  The town has been losing jobs for the last nine years, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of development spring up that offers high paying positions.  While I agree that the box store model of employment isn’t the best, that land has been sitting idle for almost a decade with nothing going on, with no attraction for industry and no job growth.  I’ll gladly get some money pumped into the local economy by having locals work there. 

3)  It will be a traffic nightmare.  My take:  If it is planned correctly, it won’t be.  And if the city and county actually become involved, they could work on being a model for rural public transportation planning.  Instead, they backed out of the whole shebang and have left it to the will of DDR.  It might not be too late to get involved and make the process work.  By the way, the area that will be developed is in strong need for repair.  The roads and conditions of the area are sub-par at best.

4)  It is big-box urban sprawl that will make downtown Ukiah a ghost town.  My take:  Most local businesses I’ve dealt with are; A)  too expensive, and B) too full of themselves.  I’ll gladly shop at Rainbow Ag, Oco Time, Schat’s, Ellie’s, and Dorsey’s Auto Repair.  But way too many businesses in Ukiah expect the consumer to feel like they owe the business something by being local, and they become petulant.  The perfect example is Dave Smith, owner of Mulligan Books here in Ukiah.  I’m sure Dave is a nice guy, but his store is open a total of four hours on the weekend, and his stock of “gently used” books are not as cheap in many cases as a brand new one at Amazon.  Oh, and Mr. Smith can’t have many employees, if any.  Amazon.com employs around 20,000.  And yes, those cheap prices allow me to eat more Oco Time.

5)  Public services are crippled due to lack of taxes.  My take:  If the city got off its ass, it should attempt to annex the land now.  If they had a brain, it should have been done years ago.  It really doesn’t matter because I don’t see it as true.  The city could easily collaborate with the county for tax revenue, and let's remember that the development will attract more people to shop in town, and eat in town, and play in town.  The tax revenue will go up.  And of course, DDR still needs to pay impact fees.

6)  Big corporations don’t need to be in small towns.  My take:  If the big corporations do better for the small town, so be it.  I have no problem with a Costco in Ukiah (the rumor).  Small businesses revolve in and out of the downtown area not because of Wal-Mart, but because they aren’t very good.  Wal-Mart has helped keep costs down in this town and allowed for people to spend money on other things like going to the evening races, bowling, eating out, or going to the Ukiah Player’s Theater. 

I’ll probably end up voting “Yes” on the measure, although I have serious questions about logging haul road that is next door to the development, and the overall aesthetics of the project.  This town needs good growth, and people bitching that it needs industry only are the same people that often complain that marijuana needs to be legalized, a major reason that we can’t get industry into the area in the first place.  Who the hell wants to raise a family in a town that smells like a pot garden every morning?  Fix your social issues and the good development comes.  In the meantime I want Costco, I want Best Buy, and I want Barnes & Noble.     

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Milking some recognition

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Those of you that read this blog know that I’m pro-gay rights, including marriage. I think that it’s a Constitutional issue that reeks of segregation.

Now we have a bill on Governor Schwarzenegger's desk called SB 572, or the Harvey Milk Day bill. For those that don’t know, Harvey Milk was a controversial gay rights activist that eventually became the first gay politician voted into office. Milk, along with Mayor Moscone (above), were assassinated in 1978.

This bill would provide that the Governor proclaim May 22 of each year as Harvey Milk Day, and would designate that date as having special significance in public schools and educational institutions and would encourage those entities to conduct suitable commemorative exercises on that date.

It’s fun watching people squirm over this. All those “family values” groups are acting like the day of recognition will create some new wing of the public education sector that pushes kiddies into becoming the next member of the cast of Queer Eye. Like teachers sit around and figure that somewhere between the Principles of the Constitution and Basics of Congress, we need to give a damn about sexual orientation. One parent said that if the bill passes that she’ll pull her kids out of the local public school and home school them. Let me be the first to say, good.

Those that actually think that these days of recognition are a big deal are sorely mistaken. “Encourage (public schools) to conduct suitable commemorative exercises”? Let me tell you what happens on the other “days of recognition”. In California, there are three.

-Second Wednesday in May: Day of the Teacher. Law says: “exercises commemorating and directing attention to teachers and the teaching profession”. On most years I’ll get a piece of paper thanking me for being a teacher. Sometimes I’ll get a carnation from Student Government. I think we had a BBQ for teachers from the admin one year. Student involvement: Next to none. Oh, and it is important to note that on this day, I did attempt to indoctrinate any students into the teaching profession. I swear.

-April 26: John Muir Day. Law says: “exercises stressing the importance that an ecologically sound natural environment plays in the quality of life for all of us, and emphasizing John Muir’s significant contributions to the fostering of that awareness and the indelible mark he left on the State of California”. I didn’t even know this existed. Student involvement: I think that in my nine years of teaching that one student might have said the name John Muir at some time during the year, but I can’t confirm that. Oh, and I did not attempt to indoctrinate anyone into the Sierra Club on this date either.

-April 6: California Poppy Day. Law says: “exercises honoring the California Poppy, including instruction about native plants, particularly the California Poppy, and the economic and aesthetic value of wildflowers; promoting responsible behavior toward our natural resources and a spirit of protection toward them; and emphasizing the value of natural resources and conservation of natural resources”. Ok, I do believe that at one time a few years ago I admitted to picking a California Poppy when I was six years old, and went through a horrid period of guilt. Student involvement: I think I’ve seen students doodle Poppies when bored with a lecture, but it could have been a different wildflower. Oh, and I might have pushed kids towards liking wildflowers. I think they’re pretty.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think that Milk should have a day named after him because I think there are others that might deserve it more. Milk was gay and elected to office and fought for civil rights. That should be applauded. Was he the most important Californian this side of John Muir? Probably not. And to be really narcissistic, I think that Milk is getting more attention from the State and Federal governments because it appeases those that support gay marriage, and takes attention away from the real issue.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You Lie!

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Yes I saw it.

Yes it was bad form and made the party look bad (par for the course these days).

No, it wasn’t THAT big of a deal.  Try looking at Prime Minister’s Questions in the United Kingdom, or any number of parliaments around the world.

Yes, all these morons feigning shock at the “disrespect at the office of the President” irritate me.  This kind of behavior has been going on since before the Clinton Administration.  Now the Democratic Golden Child is in power and is immune to a single lowlife Congressman’s heckle?  Please.

Yes the speech was good.  He spoke well and got his point across.  It might have been the best since Denver.

No, I don’t think he outright lied. 

But yes, he said those comments about illegal immigrants knowing that the health care burden of those that use the system will burden society.  And he conveinently passed right over it.

Yes, I think he’s totally bungled this entire health care issue by leaving it to Congress.  This speech should have been made two months ago.

Yes, I think Joe Wilson is an idiot.

Yes, I think health care will be reformed, although not using the Obama plan.

And finally, yes, the best part of the night was watching Nancy Pelosi’s face when Wilson spoke out.  She looked like she was about to stage dive into the House rows and beat the man with her shoe.  Now that would have been Must See TV.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ho Hum

 

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The President gave a speech, and surprise, the hammer and sickle did not appear in my classroom.

I showed the speech to my one class of Juniors, and all my Seniors, and the response was mixed. 

A good portion of students felt that the speech motivated them a little bit, although many said that they were already motivated anyway.  This was especially true in my AP classes. 

Another sizable portion of students felt that they had been hearing the same lecture for years (“Sounded like a student handbook speech”), although it was cool that the President said it. 

No one thought that the speech was overtly political, although when asked “Did you notice anything in the speech that might seem like a call to re-elect”, many noticed the “I am working had to fix your classrooms” etc.  However, many also know that in a democracy, you are almost always running for re-election. 

Some students felt like they had a greater responsibility to the country.  The quotes “I feel a greater weight on my shoulders” and “I feel a little more stressed about my education” were used a couple of times. 

Most students believed that the President’s speech would have limited impact on kids that it “needed” to target, meaning those it was really meant for.  In the eyes of my kids, if a kid their age doesn’t want to pursue an education, the President won’t change that.

The ability to relate to the kids was a big issue.  Some students don’t like the President, but nearly all of them admit that his use of language and themes that they can relate to makes them play attention more.  Remember, this is the generation that watched George Bush Jr. stumble all over the podium for eight years, so it shouldn’t be surprising that youth and vitality, and the ability to enunciate, are important. 

Overall, the reception of the speech was positive.  Only two students seemed to drift (one seemed sick, the other had seen it earlier), and the only time the attention was taken away was when office attendants came in to deliver messages.  I know of only two other teachers in the school that showed the speech to classes.  I also know that the school received parent phone calls with concerns over the President’s speech, although none of them were parents of my kids (I don’t think).  I gave my students the option to leave the classroom, with no one taking the offer. 

I’d like to congratulate elements of my political party for completely choking away any sense of legitimacy for another news cycle.  While plenty of issues need the attention of the loyal opposition, you managed yet again to show that you care more about tearing down the Commander in Chief than governing our nation.  Get to f-ing work and stop bitching. 

Friday, September 04, 2009

The President's Education Speech

This might be the single most idiotic controversy in history. 

Let me get this straight.  The President wants to address students around the country and tell them the importance of getting educated.  Now, because of the lesson plans to elementary schools happened to have the instruction that students should....

"write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

......then it must be obvious that President Obama is creating a cult of mindless commie followers?  Are you serious?

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This is Oklahoma State Senator Steven Russell.  He becomes the Dumb Bastard of the Week with this quote.

"As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education—it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality.  This is something you'd expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Mr. Russell, along with the completely mind numbing Sarah Palin, are the exact reason why the Republican Party is far, far, far from being legitimate.  And I'm a Republican.  The quote oozes so much ignorance that it is embarrassing to consider that the people of Oklahoma actually put this idiot in office.  North Korea?  No Senator, you'd be dead by now in North Korea, and the only "cult of the personality" is the one you are trying to create by lame attempts at insulting the patriotism of the other party.  My idiotic party can't seem to focus on being the rational opposition, and instead continues to swing at pitches that are not in the dirt, not way outside, but pitches that are in a different freaking ballpark.  Terry Shiavo anyone? 

If you didn't hear ,the language was changed to,

"write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals"

which was what was implied in the first place until those with way too much time on their hands decided that it was an issue.  I'm showing it not to one class, but to all my classes.  You know why?  Here's a list:

1.  He's the President.  Your president has asked to talk to kids about the importance of education.  Duh?

2.  I have four Government classes and one AP U.S. History class.  I don't know, I might be able to find some relevance to the curriculum.

3.  Hey kids, analyze Obama's speech and let's talk about the following:

-How does it relate to Federalism?

-Does the President succeed at motivating/informing the citizens of the country?

-Is the message partisan propaganda or a legitimate attempt to address the nation?

-Is the furor over the speech legitimate? 

-How might the speech impact public policy?

Get over it and grow up.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oh, on a much happier note

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I’m having a great week in the classroom!

Ukiah Teacher’s Association.

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Name something that functions like the North Korean Cabinet filled with the cast from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Wow, I really miss Johnny Carson.

Seriously, I got my paycheck today. Because of step and column, I received a raise of nearly $2,000. The main reason for that was the wise decision to get as far over on “column” portion (the number of units) as quick as possible. It has made my income go up substantially. Only I won’t see a penny of that raise. It is already gone to my health fees that more than doubled. Oh, but I shouldn’t go to the doctor either since I still need to pay off a cool thousand deductable before those “benefits” kick in. Someday, my union will put some serious effort into lowering health fees.

Then I get the report from the first Ukiah Teacher’s Association meeting. You know, I’ve written nice letters, mean letters, begged, cajoled, cursed, and I’ve come to realize that our union leadership is lead by power hungry people that might just be, well, on the same floor as Nurse Ratchet. Rude you say? Mean spirited and uncalled for you add? Not when a teacher that pays dues to an organization is lowered to two choices; one, sit back and watch near criminal negligence occur, or two, do what I’m doing now.

I just want Ukiah to know that if something occurs with Ukiah teachers because of the union, that not everyone is on board with it. In fact, a lot of teachers that teach at the high school (though I speak for only me) are really focused on teaching kids through this tough economic time, not “fighting the power” when more unity is necessary. The things coming out of that meeting do not represent me. How can someone represent me that when asked, “So you aren’t here for the best interest of the kids?” responded, “No, we’re here to represent what’s best for teachers, and you are anti-union”? Oh really. I’m a firm believer of a fair days work at a fair days wage, just like I’m a firm believer that teacher’s are underpaid.

But get this.

I’m also a firm believer that when two sides sit down and actually negotiate, things can get done. And I’m a believer that when one side becomes petulant, that you never lose your cool and absorb that mentality. I’m a believer that the CTA knows jack shit about the state of our school district, and that teachers, administrators, and parents are infinitely more qualified to address issues regarding education in this town, and yes, even about teaching. I’m a believer that you never refuse to sit down with your employer, or lose sight that they are your employer. I’m a firm believer in reasonable thinking, logical solutions, and a clear understanding that this community, one that is suffering from massive economic decline, will not support a bunch of prima donnas that refuse to sacrifice for the good of the school as an institution.

By the way, let me remind the high and mighty of the UTA that refusing sacrifice will mean that young, inspiring teachers will be the first to go because you won’t sit your ass across the table and talk. Don’t give up the house by any means, but realize that economic conditions are going to necessitate some serious financial considerations. Furloughs are not giving up the house. Reality check. Look around and tell me what you see. You have a job and some security. Why don’t you do that job on the UTA and work out solutions for the good of the teacher AND the kids.

I don’t like how things are going, especially during a tough time at our school. Teachers are really trying and succeeding in teaching with the current economic and social distractions. This union crap makes me nuts. People are digging in for a fight that does not and should not take place right now. And unless my district asks for furlough days AND wage cuts AND a rise in health fees AND my first born child, I better not hear the word “work stoppage” anywhere. I have kids to teach, bills to pay, and a greater commitment to my craft than to a bunch of ego-maniacal yahoos. I’m crossing that line the first day and the first person that gets between me and my classroom door gets fed my laptop.

Guess I’m not important enough for Piggy Flu vaccine

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I got out of my faculty meeting today with one message clearly stuck in my head. I’m not going to get an H1N1 flu virus vaccination any time soon.

While at the meeting, we were told the usual (sanitizer, cough techniques, websites with info), with the cherry on the cake top being that the Mendocino County Public Health Department has chosen not to consider teachers among those most important to receive inoculations against the Oink Attack.  Never mind that I’m around 150 kids a day, and never mind that I’m the perfect age (30-50) to get Swine Flu.  I guess that those two factors just don’t really matter.  I know, even if I get it, I’ll probably be fine.  Let’s remember, more people die of the regular flu every year, and all signs point towards H1N1 doing the same thing unless the strain really mutates.  Still, I don’t like the idea that teachers, public servants that are constantly around germ factories, are not considered in the same vain as other professions that deal with mass amounts of people.  Not only is it insulting, but if our school were to experience a 40% absence rate among students and teachers (the quote that was stated in a variety of documents to prepare for), the town becomes severely impacted. 

Not that I’m worried.  I have my hand sanitizer already in place and I’ve discussed things with my kids.  You get it, you hunker down and get better, then you go back to school and clean up the mess your sub will probably leave. 

Another thing to look forward to.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Any Educator’s Fantasy Football league?

For some reason I get either get into or find a Ukiah High Fantasy Football league.  Any educators that need an owner is very active and interested?

Week Two done

Believe it or not, I’m at the school on this Saturday morning.  There are a couple of reasons for this nutty move.  First of all, my Fantasy Football draft is coming up this morning and my house is about to be the meeting location for the females of my wife’s family.  Fantasy Football is serious enough to require some peace and quiet, so I took the laptop and headed to my classroom.  Second, and the most relevant reason, is that work still needs to get done.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

The theme for this week is fact that I’m not getting prep time to do anything that I really want to do.  I’ve been in meetings with everyone imaginable (formal and informal), to the point that I’ve stopped with calling my student’s parents because I’m tired of talking school related issues and just want to teach.  The last 30 minutes of my classroom time this morning has been putting away things that I just leave on the desk when I’m done with lessons, and after my draft I’ll enter a class or two of papers.  That stack is approaching eight inches tall.  Then I go home, lesson plan while I watch the Giants, and hopefully Sunday will be mine.  I highly doubt it though.

It might seem like I have too much work for my ninth year of teaching, but to be honest it’s the AP U.S. History (APUSH) course.  The amount of information required from this course is insane, and I’m learning a lot of information right along with the kids.  The real problem is about getting the information out without making the class straight power point lecture, which is really hard to do.  You might be telling yourself, “It’s AP.  If they want the credit, they’ll be self-motivated".  Sorry, but Ukiah High School students are not being very self-motivated learners right now.  Someone from the Admin building commented to me this week “Students are running away from rigor”, and boy is it true.  I’ve been hearing rumors that some Advanced Placement classes may be collapsed because students are bailing.  My own ears hear students simply waiting for their results on the first test, then they’ll head over to college prep classes if they don’t get the grade they like.  My APUSH class is at 25, and nobody has bailed yet after the first test.  However I’m really feeding them information from lectures, and that is slowing my pace down.  If I don’t stick to my schedule (something preached at the Cherry Creek AP conference), I’m not going to get it all in. 

That issue with rigor is dogging me in other classes too.  A student that I really liked complained that too much of the class was going through the book (two sections in two weeks, meaning about 6-7 pages), and that they wanted the notes only.  It was the clear sign that once they leave the classroom, a lot of students don’t want to be at all bothered by school.  It’s party time, period.  And in this town, I’m only finding that it is getting harder and harder for students to be self-learners. 

I nailed my first two cell phones yesterday.  Students were just texting away and I took them, gave them back at the end of the period, and issued the last warning to them.  It won’t be the last time this happens, as my number one discipline issue is cell phone use in the classroom. 

My overall classroom teaching was pretty good this week, although I haven’t been getting great sleep lately and first period has been shaky on occasion.  When I mean shaky, I mean my energy level is down and the class isn’t up to what I want it to be.   Yesterday it make a production possibilities lesson stumble and not go with fluidity.   Next week’s task is to get some sleep.  Oh, and teach the lead up to the American Revolution, the Role of Government in Economics, John Locke, How to Write a Thesis Statement, and good old Back to School Night.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pay the lads

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A sub was in today and at lunch he made the comment that the best way to get kids to come to school is to pay them.  Money seems to make the world go around, so why not start them off young and make it worth their wild?

I'll give you three reasons why you should not pay students to attend school.

1)  You can't fund the programs that the government has instituted right now.  Where in God's name are you going to find the funding to pay some little knot-head to go to school and play dodgeball? 

2)  You are assuming that whatever you decide to pay, whenever you decide to pay it, is going to be incentive enough for kids to attend school.  Then you are also assuming that the incentive will remain for a very long time, since I don't see the government bringing it up in increments over the short term.

3)  As usual, YOU ARE AVOIDING THE PRIMARY REASON WHY THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IS BROKEN IN THE UNITED STATES!  SOCIETY DOESN'T REALLY VALUE EDUCATION!

  How is it that we come up with the most trendy, expensive, and idiotic ideas to deal with education and manage to ignore the simplicity of the problem?  I actually do know the answer.  It isn't attractive to go after society and parents when it's that very entity that votes for you in the democratic process.  Obama started to go this route when he ran for office, making comments about the need for responsible parents in society.  Now that he's president,  he's turned around and done the fashionable "it's the teacher stupid" routine.  Sure, bad teachers need to be eliminated, but societies ills don't rest squarely on the shoulders of instructors.

And paying kids to keep doing what they are doing is a great way to maintain the current moronic state of mediocrity. 

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Test Scores........pay up, Obama.

Do you think if tell the world my test scores that Arnie Duncan (Sec of Education under Obama) will shift some of that new teacher accountability money my way?  Probably not, but since this blog is about real world teaching, I might as well throw out my first experience with that wonderful piece of engineering, the STAR test.  Since I taught U.S. History for the first time last year, I was responsible for over 90 students taking the U.S. History portion of the STAR test. 

First let me note that our department made significant improvement in our test scores.  I won't give specifics because I don't want to speak for anyone in my department.  However, I will say that our scores jumped 17 points.  We are above the state average and above our growth target.  Personally, here's how my scores break down.

44.5% Advanced

28% Proficient

11% Basic

5.5% Below Basic

11% Far Below Basic

62 passed

29 did not

Now, I don't know how I'm supposed to treat the numbers.  Are those good or bad?  Obviously, we don't like the whole 11% FBB (Far Below Basic), but upon looking at the students that were in that range, I can tell you that extra efficient energy on my part was not going to change their test scores.  I could have poll danced and sang the material to those students, and it wasn't going to make a difference (mostly because they wouldn't be there to watch).  I think that another year might have helped move the basic students to proficient, although I looked at some of the students that scored Basic, and I'm at a loss.  My class is tough, and some students that got good grades could not get better than Basic on the test.  That bothers me.  These are kids that nailed my tests, which are harder than the STAR (not that I would know), and showed some serious knowledge, except when it came to the test that "really mattered".  It is really bizarre.   

Oh well, I'm not going to be able to really find out if the year would make a difference since I'm teaching APUSH this year, and my numbers will be unfairly skewed. 

Let's also remember that I had an 85% pass rate for AP Comp Gov this year as well, with over twice as many people taking it.  That should be worth some extra dough.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Week One Done

I'm tired.

With the first week done and gone I can safely say that I'm pretty exhausted, yet I'm satisfied with my teaching for week one.  Actually, I really don't know how I'm feeling because I'm just too tired to really comprehend it.

My classes are pretty good.  For those that don't know, I'm now teaching AP U.S. History.  That's probably kind of funny considering the stink that came about last year about me and college prep U.S. History, but I actually volunteered to take the job.  I won't get into the "why" of it.  People think that I'm crazy for teaching three Advanced Placement classes, two Comp Gov's and one U.S.  I can do it at this point.  I can't say how I'm going to be in a few months, because I'm looking into the future and wondering if I am going to be able to expend this kind of energy every day.  The task is quite daunting.  How daunting?

How about daunting enough to question whether or not to coach basketball this season.  Of course, during this time of year, I start to question everything that seems to get in the way of making the academic portion of my job function smoothly.  The no-hoop thought was erased pretty quickly when some of my ex-ballplayers come up and started to talk with me.  It might be too much in my blood to ever really be totally out of it. 

My classes are good, and full.  Full 34 in all but APUSH, which has 24 and might be declining.  I was under a little pressure to keep the numbers up, but I'm pretty much done with trying to convince kids that they are AP students when they don't want to do the work.  Many transferred out before the year began because the class conflicted with Leadership class, which focuses on community affairs and student government.  I'm not going to beg this type of student to stay in the class when it is clear that Advanced Placement is not their priority.  APUSH can be rigorous, and I understand the unattractive nature.  However these students enrolled in the class are going to nail the test, kill two college classes, and be better prepared for college than almost anyone on campus.  Sounds pretty to me. 

I've had only one issue within the classroom, and that was a student that hasn't liked me for awhile making snide comments in class for the first two days.  I simply refused to acknowledge the acts, kept the lessons engaging, and it vanished by Wednesday.  Otherwise, all is cool. 

Now, that's not the attitude of the overall campus.  It seems like everyone I talk to is feeling overworked, and taking serious looks at the cost/benefit of their input on their job.  We got our test scores.  We made the overall school target but failed in a sub-group.  Like usual, you can make serious connections between attendance and test scores, and that is perfectly evidenced in my three classes of Juniors last year (which I'll talk about later).  It makes many, including myself, just start to not care any more about the idiotic test.  You can't teach those that are not in your classroom, period.  Yet I'm still responsible for the those students that falter because of their inability to make it to free public education.  And they wonder why teachers don't like their pay tied to the 16 year old who can't wake up in the morning to go to class.  Mix into this the on-going, and going, and going.....construction on campus and the general mood is just damn tired, after only a week.

Still, I'm a satisfied tired.  What's more, I can teach Gov and Econ without much prep because it is finally at a place that I really like.  Tests are ready, power points are up to standard, and lessons flow much better.  The year could be very, very good.........if the energy remains.               

Sunday, August 16, 2009

100 Things New Teachers Need to Know, 41-50.

31.  PC Myth #4: “Students must be able to relate to content to understand or care about it.”  How condescending!  They’re not here to be pandered to, to have their warped, manufactured view of the world reinforced.  They’re here to expand their horizons.  That means intellectual humility borne of introspection brought on by exposure to challenging new ideas.  Shock and awe, baby.

I understand for Gently is coming from and agree with it in some regard.  But realize that students become a lot more engaged when they see relevance in the information.  How you present that information can help or hinder student involvement.  Fine, student views of information might be warped and manufactured, but use that to your advantage and make the information viable for student consumption.  To me, Algebra was just a bunch of formulas and numbers that held no meaning, and that is still my opinion today (sorry RIght on Left Coast) because I was never shown relevance.  Want to build a learner?  Show them why it matters.

32.  Bloom’s taxonomy is useful for planning assignments, but the “multiple intelligences” theory is not.  Every student wants to be a “people-oriented communicator,” and thinks they are…but they aren’t.  This world revolves around numbers and written words, and the things that radiate from them, and to the degree that we diverge from that in our training of our students, we do them a disservice.

And we make life in our classroom a royal hassle.  Teach different assignments for different modalities in the beginning, then take out those that benefit students the least.  Don’t be caught in needing to constantly address the one or two students that learn in “that” way.  Make some adjustments, but stick with what works best. 

33.  Keep a journal where you record funny moments in your class, memories of students who genuinely gained something from you, photos of themselves at dances that they give you, and anything else that’s positive.  It will save you when you’re ready to tear your hair out.

Absolutely!  I have a few e-mails that really made my day that I keep for those rough days.  They really help when you get the “me vs. the world” complex. 

34.  The perfect balance between professional and approachable behavior is impossible.  In general, lean towards more professional.  Assume that every student is out to get you; don’t give them anything to use against you.  This might appear extreme, but after your first few angry parents, you’ll learn to be cautious.

 I’m afraid that Gently is correct, and it might be the reason why I won’t ever be considered one of the best teachers.  I’ve noticed that many of the “greats” give hugs, have strong personal dynamics with students, and are incredibly approachable.  I’ve learned to be cautious because it takes only one rumor to make life miserable.  I guess it depends on the teacher, but I wouldn’t take the risk.  Remain professional and remain safe.

35.  Most students will need very frequent grade updates to stay at all motivated.

 Bah.  Most students don’t give a damn about their grade until the last month of the year.  My students have access to their grades online and most hardly check them.  If you don’t have an online grade book, I would post grades every 2-3 weeks, and tell students that you are always willing to talk grades outside of class time. 

36.  Go into every parent conference armed with copies of updated grade reports, recent samples of the student’s work, and any disciplinary paperwork related to the student.  If they have an IEP or 504, bring it and be ready to explain how you’ve complied with it.

Document everything.  Follow Gently’s advice and realize that the child has fed the parent their version of the story for days, weeks, or even months.  It will go a long way if you have everything written down. 

37.  If you have a problem with a student, email their other teachers for advice: someone knows how to deal with him.  If the student is in ROTC or plays a sport, go to the officers or coaches.  They will get you results fast.

Excellent advice.  I’m coming from the view of teacher and coach, and I expect my kids to make grades and excel. 

38.  Detention is rarely worth it.  If you do make a student come in, make them use the time to do homework for your class, or clean your room.

I don’t do detentions.  Why should I take up my time after school for something a student did?  I kick them out, send them to In School Suspension, or better yet, nail the problem before you have to take it to that level. 

39.  Collect homework as soon as the day starts.  Anyone who was “finishing” it after that gets half credit.

Better yet, collect when class starts and don’t accept after that.   

40.  Never, ever, ever take any work home with you.

Good luck.  Nine years in and I’m still working on this.  If you don’t take work home with you, more power to you.  I’m not there yet.  Of course, I’ve had a brand new prep every year for the last four years.